Child abuse is a serious problem that exists in all our
communities. Educators have a special role to play in dealing with this problem,
along with doctors, nurses and social workers. In fact, people in these professions
are required by law to respond to signs of child abuse.
The Western Cape Education Department has published a policy
document called Abuse No More: Dealing Effectively with Child Abuse, which
provides detailed guidelines on how to approach this sensitive issue.
This brief guide introduces key procedures covered by the
guidelines. This guide should not replace a thorough reading of the longer document,
given the legal obligations of educators in terms of Section 15 of the Child
Care Amendment Act (Act 96 of 1996).
While intended for educators, this summary can also be referred
to by learners, parents and others who would like to know more about the nature
of child abuse, and how school personnel are obliged to respond to signs of
child abuse among learners in their care.
This summary looks at:
- How to identify child abuse;
- Dealing with disclosure; and
- Dealing with alleged offenders.
1. How to identify child abuse
The following is a summary of the main types
and typical symptoms of child abuse. The symptoms are covered in more detail
in the Abuse No More document (pages 12 to 17). Symptoms must
not be viewed in isolation. If you have any doubts about these symptoms, discuss
your observations with your school principal or school social worker.
- Physical abuse, e.g. injuries over a period of time
or at various stages of healing (cuts, bruises, burn marks, abrasions, fractures)
which cannot be explained.
- Neglect, e.g. the child does not grow and/or loses
weight, is pale and emaciated, is constantly vomiting and/or has constant
diarrhoea or does not reach developmental milestones within normal age-range.
- Sexual Abuse, e.g. pain or unusual itching of genitals
or anal area, sexually transmitted diseases, difficulty in sitting or walking,
regular urinary infection or continual irritation and/or mouth sores (owing
to forced oral sex).
- Emotional abuse, e.g. bedwetting, soiling and continual
complaints of headaches, nausea, and/or stomach pain for which there is no physical
Apply the following procedure if you suspect some form
of child abuse:
- Gather information about your suspicion without implicating
- Document your information in a file (e.g. information from
the learner, information from other learners and/or parents, and reports from parents
- Treat this information as highly confidential (all information
gathered must be placed on a separate file and stored in a strong-room or
safe. This information must not be discussed with other educators, learners,
- Report your suspicions to your school principal, who
will then follow the procedures outlined in the Abuse No More
document (pages 18 and 19).
2. Dealing with disclosure
Disclosure of abuse can be a very traumatic
experience for both the complainant and the educator assisting the child,
and must be handled as sensitively as possible. Pages 20 to 22 of the policy
document provide guidance on how to handle disclosure.
Remember to document all information gathered
from the learner. You can use guidelines on pages 23 to 24 of the policy document
to ensure that you have enough information about the disclosure. This will also
help you should the South African Police Services (SAPS) require a sworn statement in a criminal case.
Please do not use the guidelines as a
checklist during your discussion with the child concerned. The complainant must
be given the opportunity to speak spontaneously.
Apply the following steps during or after
disclosure. Please take note of your specific role in the process as well as
the role of your school principal.
STEP 1 Ensure the
safety of the learner (in collaboration with the SAPS and the
social worker, ensure that the learner will not have direct contact
with the alleged offender).
STEP 2 Explain to the
learner that you will treat all the information in a confidential way,
but in order to help her or him, you are legally obliged to report the
case to other role-players such as the social worker and/or the SAPS.
Explain the roles that they will play as well as the procedures
that will be followed in steps 3 Ė 9.
STEP 3 Inform the school
principal (unless he or she is implicated). No detailed information
about the alleged abuse needs to be disclosed at this stage.
STEP 4 Assist the school
principal in contacting the relevant role-players provided in the list
below (within three days after the incident) in order to decide on the
process of intervention. (If you are not sure which ones to contact,
contact the school social worker or the WCED's Safe Schools Call Centre
at 0800-45-46-47. Other contact numbers are provided on page 33 of the
- The local welfare organisation;
- The school psychologist;
- The Child Protection Unit;
- The SAPS in the residential area of the complainant;
- Labour Relations, when employees are the alleged offenders;
- The complainantís parent(s) (with the consent of the
complainant, if she or he is over 14), provided that they are not the alleged
- The Child Protection Centre;
- The Department of Health and the Department of Social Services;
- The school nurse (if available), or (if applicable) the ELSEN
STEP 5 Assist the school
principal in compiling a confidential report for the social worker and
the SAPS. Ensure that confidentiality is maintained by following the
procedures provided on page 27 of the policy document (after step 9).
STEP 6 Assist the school
principal in meeting with the relevant role-players mentioned in Step
4, to draw up a plan of action to indicate the responsibilities of each
participant in the intervention process. The school principal must then
report the case or incident to the Head: Specialised Support Services at the
relevant Education Management and Development Centre (EMDC).
STEP 7 The school principal
will follow up with all the role-players, document the process and inform
you of progress. He or she will also pass the information on to
the Head: Specialised Support Services at the relevant EMDC.
STEP 8 Keep the learner
and her or his parent(s) informed of the steps taken by the role-players
and the outcome of the investigation.
STEP 9 Assist the school
principal in monitoring the learner's emotional, mental and physical
health, discuss it with his or her parents, and refer the learner for
further professional help if necessary.
3. Dealing with alleged offenders
The following guidelines refer to situations
where the alleged offender is another learner, an educator or school employee,
or a school principal.
What to do when a learner is the alleged
Follow steps 1 Ė 9 above to assist the alleged
learner offender. This should be seen as an attempt to prevent the alleged offender
from committing further abuse. Implement the following additional procedure if necessary:
- Contact the alleged offender's parents, inform them
of the incidents and discuss a plan of action for support and intervention.
- Refer the alleged offender for emotional support and
therapy if necessary.
- Arrange for temporary suspension of the alleged offender,
depending on the circumstances and only if in the best interest of other learners
and the school. (If the offence was serious enough to merit suspension or expulsion
the school principal will refer the matter to the governing body of the school.)
What to do when an educator or school
employee is the alleged offender:
- The parent, educator or employee to whom the disclosure
was made should inform the school principal.
- The school principal will inform the Head: Specialised
Support Services at the relevant EMDC, who will in turn inform the departmentís Labour
What to do when the school principal
is the alleged offender:
- The employee to whom the disclosure was made should inform
the Head: Specialised Support Services at the relevant EMDC, who will then inform the
departmentís Labour Relations personnel. The employee to whom the disclosure
was made should also forward all relevant documents to the Head: Specialised
Support Services at the local EMDC.
Copies of Abuse No More: Dealing Effectively
with Child Abuse have been circulated to all schools, along with a training
video. Educators can ask principals to make these available should she or he not
have done so already.
Thank you for your interest in dealing with
this severe social problem. With your help, there is much we can do to make
our world a safer place for the children in our care.
For further information, contact:
The Director Specialised Education Support Services
Western Cape Education Department
Private Bag X9114
Cape Town 8000
Tel: (021) 467-2557
Fax: (021) 467-2610
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